Are cleaning ‘pods’ smart buys?

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The invasion of the pods is upon us.

While single-use dishwasher detergents — nicknamed “pods,” “paks” and “tabs” — have been around more than a year, trial sizes of single-dose laundry detergent Tide Pods and All Mighty Paks are appearing in some Wal-Mart stores. And you can expect Arm & Hammer Toss N’ Done Power Paks and Purex Power Paks to appear in stores soon. An eco-friendly single-dose laundry detergent brand, Dropps, is already on Publix store shelves.

They certainly are more convenient, but are they worth the significant increase to your household-supplies budget?

According to Consumer Reports’ home and yard editor Bob Markovich, it’s bad practice to overwhelm your washing machine.

“Because new HE (high efficiency) washing machines use less water, the biggest mistake you can make is to overdose on laundry detergent, which wastes money, leaves residue on clothes and can build up in your washer. It’s best to use a detergent specially formulated for HE washers because they (create) less suds,” he advises.

He says the amount of laundry detergent you should use varies depending on the size of the load, the brand of detergent and any specifications from the user’s manual that came with your machine. His general rule of thumb for a regular load (not extra dirty, never overstuffed) is to err on the side of using less.

So, do single-use doses solve the laundry detergent overdose problem?

“Single-dose laundry detergents help to prevent overdosing and are convenient to use,” says Christina Peterson, product analyst, home Appliances & Cleaning Products at the Good Houskeeping Research Institute. “But one regular-size load will use one pack. For heavily soiled loads, you’ll need two packs.”

That can get expensive. I found the cost per single-dose laundry load is more than twice as much as traditional detergent. Just before the new laundry detergent pods hit the market, Consumer Reports tested some new formulations with 2x, 3x and even 6x detergent concentrations. The company found that while you use less product, the pods aren’t necessarily cheaper nor did they clean better than traditional laundry detergent.

When it comes to the single-dose dishwasher detergents, Consumer Reports found the ratings highest with the tabs, pods and packs because they performed better than traditional gel, liquid or powder. But the cost per load was also often three or more times the traditional dishwasher detergent price.

Have you paid the price and made the switch? Do you think laundry and dishwasher pods, packs and tabs are smart spending?

Written by
Naomi Mannino
Contributing writer
Naomi Mannino is a contributing writer at Bankrate. Naomi writes about loans and banking.